By Elva Darnell
Nat Foster from the RSPCA and Simone McGurk with dogs Perry and Dennis. (ABC News: Garrett Mundy)
Animal welfare workers say a program that cares for pets that belong to people experiencing family and domestic violence could save lives.
The RSPCA’s Pets in Crisis program takes pets and places them into anonymous foster care while their owners attempt to escape domestic violence.
Nat Foster, from the RSPCA, said people often stay in abusive relationships because they were too worried about what would happen to their pets if they left.
“Some horrible things happen to these victims, these clients, and the only people they can rely on, day in, day out, is their animals,” she said.
“No way do they want to leave that home without having those animals taken care of.”
The program has already housed 55 animals and most have now been returned to their owners.
Pets in Crisis has received a $922,780 grant from Lotterywest, as well as $100,000 from the WA Government to upgrade kennels and pet facilities and buy new vehicles and equipment.
Ms Foster said the highlight of her career was returning a Staffordshire bull terrier to its owner — a mother with two daughters.
“As soon as I got the dog out, they were crowding round the dog, came and hugged me,” she said.
“And I just saw mum, tears dropping on the Staffy’s head, and that moved me.
“I found out that woman had been to hell and back and she said to me ‘Thank you, you’ve just completed our family, we feel like we’re back together again now’.”
Foster care stops DV perpetrators tracking down pet
Under the program, a person escaping domestic violence can move their pet to an emergency shelter pen before it is placed with an anonymous foster carer.
Ms Foster said moving animals from shelters to foster care was better for the animals, and also meant the perpetrator could not track down the animal.
She said some of the animals had also been physically abused.
“We do need people who can take on dogs and cats — cats aren’t really that much of a hassle, but the dogs certainly sometimes do have a few behavioural issues,” she said.
“Very often they haven’t been socialised with other animals.”
Ms Foster said they were always looking for more foster carers.
“If anyone can help us, particularly if they don’t have their own animals at home, they’re the golden foster carers, and they can help us immensely.”